A SHORT STORY
Faded sunlight cut across Raleigh’s vision as she fluttered her eyes open. She felt a dull, dry feeling—her agonizing perception of the world around her—seep into her skin with the warm sunlight. Through her beautiful green eyes, the windows to her delicate soul, she saw no color. Born without the ability to see vibrant and vivacious flowers or insects, paintings or Technicolor movies, and even the different hues of her own skin and hair, Raleigh matured through the hardships of a life made entirely of one charcoal sketch after another.
The scenery changed many times from one hospital to the next. The hallways and corridors stretched farther and echoed louder with increasing screams and laments from patients much more insane and out of touch with reality. During the initiation into her current whitewashed prison, Raleigh let go of the memories of her very last friend.
The thought of Stephanie’s hair, soft gray and grown beyond the small of her back, tickled Raleigh’s lonesome nose as she sat in the leather chair at the front desk, just as calm and quiet as any given ‘sane’ person. She fought the engraved images in her mind and the familiar tingle along the contour of her face, trying ever-so-hard to nod her head at the right moments during the routine speech from the head nurse.
An orderly lead her down the speckled tile hallway, passing beneath buzzing fluorescent lights. His strong, muscled fingers brushed against her side, and she fell into the memory of Stephanie’s multi-tinted fingernails running over her brand new dress in such admiration. No longer feeling a longing for the friend left behind, Raleigh drowned in a sudden surge of jealousy. Stephanie’s eyes saw color; they knew the difference between each flower in the fabric.
A single tear, tangible evidence of her overwhelming anger and frustration, slipped down her cheek. With the sound of the heavy wooden door echoing through her tiny room and not a single tear more, Raleigh completely let go of her time with Stephanie.
The early morning sunshine burned her delicate skin. Her exposed, freckled arms shone a bright gray against the dark tone of the thin hospital blanket beneath them. Her hands began to tremble of their own accord as the normal 7 a.m. anxiety swept through her body. A metallic click from the door of the room ripped her attention away from the look and feel of her own body and startled her into uncontrollable panic.
Raleigh’s body went rigid and her teeth slammed together, throwing her body against the pillow where she previously slept untethered to reality. The long, shiny needle jutting from the thin glass syringe within the head nurse’s fingers forced her to keep scrambling. Her bare feet quickly bunched the starched white sheets at the foot of the tiny bed.
In her moment of instinct, a need radiated through the defenseless girl’s being; she wanted to scream for help. She could feel the needle piercing her skin, ripping it as she struggled against the strong hands of the older woman. The sedative traveled through her body, racing with the beat of her frightened heart, invading blood and muscle.
Her legs loosened and her firmly planted feet slipped, little by little, down
the bed until her knees were hardly bent at all. She watched the needle slide out of her arm as it floated toward the bed and settled by her side.
The nurse roughly jammed a wrinkled, manly finger into Raleigh’s mouth and forced it open. “One day you’ll wake up and stop fighting,” the nurse let loose her words in a cursing tone.
A series of tiny pills drifted down Raleigh’s throat and, within merely a second, the nurse had vanished.
Deep screeching roused Raleigh from an angelic sleep. Her eyes followed the curve of her arm to the reddened injection site. A cluster of tiny blood spots made visible pictures throughout the inside of her elbow. Tenderly, the woozy girl ran her tingling fingertips over the wound. The screeching continued to drill through her ears; something sharp was grinding into the window above her bed.
In a smooth movement, she hoisted herself upon her knees and held herself steady by way of the paint-chipped windowsill. She knew the sunlight must be as beautiful and majestic in color as it felt on the surface of her skin. Even through the thin glass window and the bars holding her prisoner, she could feel its power and life. With her eyes closed, she drowned the sound of the harsh, dry tree branches against the glass and filled the entire space of the room with thoughts and theories of sparkling, living-color sunshine until everything stood still.
A twittering sound destroyed her beautiful, imaginary world. The sound of a tiny songbird replaced a healthy color to Raleigh’s cheeks and forced the corners of her mouth to curl in an irresistible grin. She gazed past the confines of her prison and watched the little black bird ride through the haughty breeze on an ugly branch of the offending tree. It bobbed up and down as the wind tossed the branch to and fro, but the bird held fast to the small twig refusing to yield to anything, even the awesome power of Mother Nature.
Interrupting her enthrallment with the black bird, a much smaller creature flew so close to Raleigh’s face that she felt the need to reach out. It, too, buzzed against the wind, fighting to catch footing on a small bush near the bottom of the building. Raleigh craned her neck and pressed her forehead to the glass, all in an attempt to follow the brave bee, and found it rousting near a gorgeous fully bloomed black rose. No rose in the bush could compare to the size and proud sense of life it beamed toward her window. The bee seemed to nuzzle against the petals, causing an unstoppable wave of rage to travel from Raleigh’s heart straight to her eyes.
The longing to be outside with the bee, to touch the rose petals, and to bring their delicate feeling to the side of her cheek boiled over. She pressed her hands firmly against the glass and pushed with all her might. Despite her effort and increasing rage, the barrier did not budge, nor did it shift or crack. Reactions within her brain began exploding one after another in quick succession; her fists began beating against the shivering glass.
To herself she cried as the black bird and charcoal bee took flight in fear. Tears gushed from her eyes as a lonesome, heartbreaking wail erupted from her trembling lips. She felt a war within herself; medicine began battling throughout her brain while her thoughts of loneliness and panic drifted away. Still shaking from her outburst, Raleigh watched the black bird flying out of sight.
The tiny animal that fought so valiantly against the wind used its enemy to fly higher and higher toward the cottony clouds. It swooped and flipped in the air, completely liberated from its earlier troubles and the fear caused by the girl’s manic rapping at the window. Raleigh ran her barely-there fingernails down the length of the window pane, silently begging the beautiful creature to return.
As the bird sailed past the bright gray afternoon sun, she felt a brand new tingle emerging. Her insides twisted with a realization; no longer furious and boiling with anger, Raleigh surrendered to a kind of peaceful admiration for the flying animal. The sense of freedom and liberation engorged her heart as if she herself were flying away from her troubles and fears, toward a fully golden and majestic burning star.
An imaginary world took root within Raleigh’s mind once again, this time filled with singing black birds and black-trunked trees with glowing gray leaves. Her arms were no longer speckled with blood from numerous needle sticks but smooth and glowing with the same luster as the millions of leaves on every tree. The grass tickled the bottoms of her bare feet in the spots wore dull by years of cold, hard tile. A light giggle brought her heart to life as a strong breeze tugged at her long hair and wrapped it around her smiling face. The coveted feeling of freedom and liberation taken from the wonderful bird in flight found a permanent place in her heart.
The thick wooden door burst open and sent a crashing bang over the empty walls of Raleigh’s room. Struggling with the rusty trick hinge, the head nurse manhandled her way into the teenage girl’s private sanctuary followed by two very prepared assistants. A single survey of the tiny quarters found Raleigh’s still—almost lifeless—body slumped over her spring-mattress cot. As though they were about to take down a wild lion, the nurse and her goons readied themselves into a striking position.
“Be careful,” she told the two men at each side, “this one likes to put up a fight. Just hold her still while I stick her.” A shiny syringe sprouted from her chubby, masculine hand, but Raleigh’s eyes stayed still as stone.
The two men lifted the girl and lightly placed her on the thin bed. The needle of the nurse’s syringe slipped into her arm with ease. Holding her hand stiff and steady, the burly woman expected a jump, a thrash, or, at the very least, a wail. But she got nothing; the entire room was silent.
Raleigh’s untamed hair covered her eyes but a small smile was visibly growing. No longer would she try to barter with the nurses, the doctors, or God. With the piercing pain of the needle stick and the searing medicine traveling up her arm, she felt her own inner spirit begin to transform. Her mind, the very thing that took away her ability to live life as a normal person, had given her the power to spread her very own set of shimmering black wings and fly away from her fears and impairments. Raleigh held fast to an imaginary freedom with endless songbirds and tender blades of soft, gray grass, devoid of needles and nurses and pills—her own unique freedom.